Papa John’s must hope that owner/spokesperson John Schnatter doesn’t get caught in a scandal – because then that brand would be in serious trouble.

That’s the problem brands face when they are associated with a personality. Papa John’s is the extreme example of one personality representing the brand itself, but the risk still exists.

With Subway spokesperson Jared Fogle under investigation for having child pornography, it’s a warning to brands that, if you are identified with a single personality, then you can be the victim of that personality’s image.

Subway will probably escape any brand damage from this as Fogle has not been a major part of its brand for some time, instead pushing its “Eat Fresh” position that Fogle only backed up.

The risk of the spokesperson.

Still, playing the celebrity spokesperson game is a risky one. Some years ago, Accenture went all in with Tiger Woods just weeks before his sex scandal broke. That resulted in a doomed campaign and it took a few years for the firm to rebound.

Think about this: What if the recent Bill Cosby news came out when he was hocking products on our TVs? What would happen to Jell-O?

What if we knew then what we know now?

What if we knew then what we know now?

I’d like to think brands have gotten smarter over the years, and maybe they have. Food Network has cut ties with Paul Deen, which is a good thing when she posed with her husband and son, Bobby, in an I Love Lucy parody and it sent out on Twitter. The problem? Bobby was in brownface (to look like Desi, I assume), just two years after Deen admitted to using racial slurs. (And Bobby does appear on Food Network.)

Then there’s Donald Trump. Seeing brands run as far away and fast as they can from Trump this week has been hilarious. Macy’s, ESPN and now the PGA Tour are among those distancing themselves from the billionaire and Republican presidential candidate like he’s got Ebola.

There is a better way, of course. Having a spokesperson is fine and all, but it’s much more effective if the meaning of the brand itself trumps (no pun intended) the spokesperson. That is, the spokesperson is only a human representative of what the brand itself means. When the brand only means what the spokesperson represents, you are at risk.

We’ll see how the investigation of Subway Jared plays out, but I’m betting that you won’t be seeing Jared on any Subway commercials soon.

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